Tag Archives: bullying

The Weight of Water – Sarah Crossan

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The Weight of Water – Sarah Crossan

Middle Grade – Fiction

This was a book to savour.

To be fair, I love books in verse – if there’s a point to the verse. I also think that books in verse are very tempting for reluctant readers. Those sparse looking pages are much less confronting, and there’s a real sense of achievement when the book is easily completed for readers who may not often actually finish a book. As soon as I finished it, I gave it to a Year 8 girl in one of my English classes (not a keen reader – but s swimmer) and she loved it!

However, there’s much more to this book than being a relatively fast read, because it is weighty… it has beautiful moments. Kasienka is Polish. About a year ago her father suddenly left her, her mother and Poland – and went to London. Filled with grief, Kasienka’s mother is determined to find him and work things out. But, Kasienka finds that England is not what she expected. There are wonderful passages where she talks about expecting to be different, but not in the way that she is regarded as different at school. Bullying is there, but in the background, described and awful, but certainly not the only thing going on in Kasienka’s life:

They are hunting,
Circling to prevent my escape.
They yap and snuffle,
Jostling to be close to Clair,
Covering their mouths
To stifle their laughter.

I am a fox surrounded by beagles.
They will eat me alive and spit out the fat.

I am their prey and there is nothing
I can do to stop them pouncing.

 

I also think that one of the wonderful things about verse is that it spotlights moments that are representative – the effect is sort of like a montage, but with a wonderful clarity in each moment that we see.  Each poem stands on its own, which I think is important for books in verse:

When I am in the water

My body moves like a wave:

There is a violence to it

And a beauty

 

The space around each verse allows the reader time to contemplate – to pause for thought, and to allow ideas to sink in. This is also a coming of age story. Kasienka meets William at the local pool and their story quietly and quite naturally evolves.

If you enjoyed…

  • The One and Only Ivan
  • Sweetgrass Basket
  • Love That Dog

then you might like this book.

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Filed under Children 10+, Five stars, Middle Grade Fiction, Written in verse

Red Rocks – Rachael King

Red Rocks4/5 stars.  Good story.  Evocative setting with some really gorgeous writing.

‘Waves battered the beach, chattering to the stones as they receded.  Jake stood still, watching the rocks, waiting for a movement.  And there it was: a seal, with sleek, damp fur, launching itself into the water like a torpedo.  He looked for it amongst the floating islands of kelp, thought he spotted it at first but no, there it was, further away.  It’s head surfaced and it rolled onto its back, raised one flipper as if in a wave and was gone.’

Red Rocks WellingtonRed Rocks Reserve, Wellington, New Zealand.

And so begins the story of Jake, visiting his writer father in Owhiro Bay, Wellington.  Jake normally lives in Auckland with his mother, her husband Greg and their new baby, Davey.  He is spending two weeks with his father over the school holidays.  His father is busy writing a book, so Jake has quite a lot of freedom, and goes exploring on his bike.  When he is exploring the red rocks, he discovers a fissure, a small cave, and hidden in the depths of the cave is a seal skin.  For a reason  not quite fathomable to Jake, he takes it home.  Soon after, he sees a red haired woman roaming town, appearing to search for something.  Jake meets Jessie, a young girl, who is the granddaughter of an old man, Ted, who lives in a shack on the beach.  Jessie has something mysterious about her:

‘The little girl had piqued his curiosity.  The way she looked at him made him want to talk to her, to find out what was going on behind those dark eyes.  She was younger than him, so maybe they wouldn’t have much to say to each other, but maybe if she was cheeky, like Ted said, she could be fun to hang out with.  He hadn’t met many kids his own age here.’

The story develops, with some nice tension, and the windy, unpredictable and rugged coastline of Wellington being an additional character to the story.  We are introduced to the story of the Selkie when Jessie discovers that Jake has the sealskin.

‘Do you know what a selkie is?’ she asked.

‘A selkie? No. Should I?’

‘Selkies are seal people.  The seals come on land and they shed their skins so they can walk on the earth like humans do.  When they have finished their business, they put their skins back on and become seals again.’

But that’s just a fairy story,’ said Jake, who could remember something he had heard a long time ago.  A story, set in Ireland maybe, where his ancestors had come from.

Jessie stared at him, hard.  ‘It’s not a story.  It is real.  Jake, if you have stolen a sealskin, then whoever it belongs to will be stuck in human form.’ Jake was surprised to see tears form in her eyes. ‘You must put it back.’

Unfortunately for Jake, further complications arise when his father discovers the seal skin.  Stormy, stormy times…beautifully written.  Jake’s confusing age is probably OK since that is true of teenage hood!  Sometimes they want to be children.  Sometimes, independent adults.  His stormy and unpredictable relationship with his father is also quite believable.

Sadly, I felt that the story lost its path a little about two thirds of the way through.  Without going into any detail, the character focus changes, and I think to the detriment of the story.  However, by the end it is easy to forgive this, and the denouement is thrilling.

I’m going to try this out on some 11-12 year olds and see what their perspective of the story is.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to let you know!!

 

Highly recommended.  Readers of 10+.  Some mature readers of 9yrs may also enjoy it.

 

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Filed under Children 10+, Four stars, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Uncategorized

One Crazy Summer – Rita Williams-Garcia

One Crazy Summer

WoW!  It’s been a great day’s reading…It feels like a privilege to have read this book, set in Oakland, California in 1968.  This is the time of the Blank Panthers, Sit-ins, Martin Luther King and Delpine, the eleven year old protagonist is struggling to come to terms with a mother who abandoned her and her two sisters, and who reluctantly has them to stay for a month over summer.  She is also struggling over what it means to be who she is – coloured or black, suppressed or oppressed, and how to deal with that.

Delphine is only eleven, but she is the mother that her mother is not.  She looks after her two little sisters, Vonetta and Fern with a determined resilience that is just too sad, and yet so powerful.  One Crazy Summer the girls are sent to live with their mother for a month.  Their mother that they have not seen since she walked out on them after Fern was born.  Delphine believes she left them because of an argument over Fern’s name.

In NZ the fern is a powerful image of new life and potential, symbolised by the koru.  New unfurling life, strength, potential and peace.  This feels right for the book.  That the name Cecile wanted to call Fern means mercy and protection, is also right for the story.

For me, while Delphine was a powerful storyteller, and she carried the storyline with a real dignity and truth, Cecile was the story.  Her poetry rocked!  As did Fern’s.  Strangely, while Cecile’s poem was about being the mother of the nation, Delphine symbolised and lived the self-restraint and subsuming of self that brings to mind oppression.  Delphine was the mother to her mother, the mother earth.  Cecile was the game changer, the rebellious, obstinant, bruised child.  Delphine has the strength to see many perspectives, and allow difference – to respect the different pathways to freedom.  And her strength means she can help it to happen.

This beautiful, upside down book does not resolve everything.  But it shows a pathway to understanding hurt and anger, deprivation and resilience that is ultimately hopeful, if not perfect.

I really felt that this book was not SET in the time, but OF the time.  The little touches didn’t feel forced, they felt true…I loved Delphine’s Timex watch, and the shows on TV, the music, and just so much else about this book.

I’m off to read more books by this author…

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Filed under Children 12+, Prize winners, Uncategorized

Holes – Louis Sachar

Holes

‘If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.
That was what some people thought.’

Stanley Yelnats is not a bad boy, but thanks to his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great grandfather, he does have some pretty bad luck.

‘Stanley Yelnats was given a choice.  The judge said, “You may go to jail, or you may go to Camp Green Lake.”
Stanley was from a poor family.  He had never been to camp before.’

But, as he discovers when he gets to Camp Green Lake, there is no lake at Camp Green Lake…

This novel has been described as ‘groundbreaking’ – I can only hope that was a deliberate pun.  What I like about this novel is its down to earth (I know, I know), spare language, which generally leaves a lot more unsaid hanging in the air, than it says. It’s eloquent in its brevity.  For example, this is the description of Stanley’s first meal and shower at Camp Green Lake:

‘Stanley took a shower – if you could call it that, ate dinner – if you could call it that, and went to bed – if you could call his smelly and scratchy cot a bed.’

It doesn’t take many pages before kids are asking, ‘What’s up with the three thing?’  Oh!  You’re asking me about literary devices, now?  Well, if you insist!

In that sense, it’s a perfect boy novel – there’s not a lot of deep talk going on.  But it’s deep, for sure.

Four stories are woven together.  The stories of Elya, Stanley’s great-great-grandfather; Kissin’ Kate Barlow and Sam the onion man; and the Zeronis are peppered throughout Stanley’s story, at seemingly random points, with little clues thrown in to gradually make the reader aware of how they connect, and some pretty powerful imagery is thrown in, to boot.

Stanley finds himself in with a bunch of youths that may well have been the kind to bully him in his previous life.  They all have nicknames like Armpit, ZigZag, X-ray and Zero – although Stanley’s not entirely sure that Zero is a nickname.  The boys each have to dig a hole a day, and if they find anything interesting they have to give it to the warden.  Stanley starts out finding the digging hard, and getting along with the boys harder.  There are all sorts of codes he needs to figure out.

Stanley’s pathway to lifting his great-great-grandfather’s curse is both complex and simple, and stunningly wrought.  The first part of the novel leaves readers feeling a little confused, on the edge of understanding what’s going on, but not quite getting it.  The second part cleverly litters little clues and the bringing together of the clues is made immensely satisfying for the reader because there is a purpose to everything in the first half – even the bits that seemed irrelevant.  So satisfying!

Everytime I read this book, I find something else to love about it.  This needs to be on everyone’s reading list, and you need to read it more than once.

This book has won a huge number of prizes.  For more information, go to: http://www.louissachar.com/HolesBook.htm

PS – the film version is one of the best book to film adaptations I have ever seen:  http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/holes/

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Filed under Children 10+, Children 12+, Classics, humour, Uncategorized, YA 14+

Bluefish – Pat Schmatz

bluefish

I don’t know quite what I was expecting when I started this book, but it certainly wasn’t this book.  The edition that I have has a blue cover with a blue fish on it, and of course it made me think of ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish’.  And that is important, but not for a while, unless you get it early on.

Travis has had to move, with his grandfather, to a smaller house and a new school.  He has new teachers to get used to and new peers.  He is also missing his dog, Rosco.

On his first day at the new school a shoe lands next to him, while he is trying to open his locker.  As he tries to work out what has happened, he notices a kid walking past, with only one shoe on. ‘A head bobbed down the hall toward him, dipping with a one shoe walk.  The guy was small, and Travis figured him for a seventh grader, maybe even sixth.  He had deep brown skin and hair cropped too short to kink, and he carried a nice new over-the-shoulder book bag.  He was very tucked in and tidy except for his shoeless left foot.  His right foot wore a new white Nike.’  Travis ‘bumps’ the shoe into the kids hand and gets on with his day.  Staying in the background.

Until he meets Velveeta, ‘My public calls me Velveeta’, a girl in his reading class, Room 134, and then the self-proclaimed ‘subversive’ Mr McQueen (Considering Velveeta’s passion for film, I’m guessing the name McQueen is an allusion).  Mr McQueen reaches Travis in a way that other teachers haven’t, ‘a short, round balding guy with glasses came out of his office at the front of the room, spotted Travis and walked over.’

What I love about this book is its richness and its natural reference to so many books and so many films.  One after the other, little jewels are spilt throughout.  Velveeta and Travis take their turns in telling their stories and you care equally about each.

I highly recommend this book!

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Filed under Children 10+, humour, Uncategorized